Monday, September 19, 2016

Charles Rutledge’s Book of Horror VIII: Vampire Edition

1. Chastel- Manly Wade Wellman
From The Valley So Low
2. The Night Flyer- Stephen King
From Nightmares and Dreamscapes
3. Murgunstrumm- Hugh B. Cave
From Murgunstrumm and Others
4. Mirage- Karl Edward Wagner
From Death Angel's Shadow
5. Hills of the Dead- Robert E. Howard
From Solomon Kane
6. The Mysterious Stranger-Annon
From In the Shadow of Dracula
7. The Room in the Tower-E.F. Benson
From The Room in the Tower and Other Stories
8. Count Magnus-M.R.James
From Ghost Stories of an Antiquary
9. Popsy-Stephen King
From Nightmares and Dreamscapes
10. When it was Moonlight-Manly Wade Wellman
From Worse Things Waiting
11. The Family of the Vourdalak-Aleksei Tolstoy
From Dracula's Guest
12. The Adventure of the Sussex Vampire-Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
From The Casebook of Sherlock Holmes
13. Strangella-Hugh B. Cave
From Murgunstrumm and Others

Amazingly, it’s September. Where does the time go? It’s still warm here in Northern Georgia, but there’s a hint of autumn on the wind, and my mind is, of course, turning to Halloween and all things dark and dangerous. So it’s time for the table of contents of the eighth edition of my imaginary horror anthology, Charles Rutledge’s Book of Horror, inspired by the book H.P. LOVECRAFT’S BOOK OF HORROR. I always try and have this list out in September, so that interested parties have a chance to track down any of the stories before Halloween.
There’s a new wrinkle this year though, as this is actually a themed anthology, where I list my favorite thirteen horror stories about vampires. Also I’ll be cross-posting with another blog, that of Amanda DeWees, author of Gothic Romantic Suspense novels and quite the vampire maven. Amanda will be putting up her own list of favorite Vampire tales at her blog, which I will link to at the bottom of this post.
So let’s get started. First up on my list is Manly Wade Wellman’s ‘Chastel’ the last story to feature occult detective Judge Keith Hilary Pursuivant. The judge was far less well known than Wellman’s other two occult specialists, John Thunstone and John the Balladeer, but actually preceded both of those characters. This story was a big influence on me while writing my own vampire novel, ‘Congregations of the Dead’ with James A. Moore. The short story is very creepy and evocative and is a fine send off for the judge.
Next up is what I consider to be one of the scariest vampire yarns ever, Stephen King’s ‘The Night Flyer’. The vampire in this one is totally inhuman, smelling of corruption and the grave. Another big influence on the way I write about vampires.
‘Murgunstrumm’ is probably Hugh B. Cave’s best known story, and though it was written for the pulps more than seventy years ago, it still backs considerable punch.
Karl Edward Wager’s ‘Mirage’ is a story of his immortal warrior and hero-villain, Kane. A wounded and delirious Kane stumbles into an old ruin and almost stays there forever. The story has a weird, dream-like quality and is one of my favorites of the Kane series.
Another Kane is Robert E. Howard’s Solomon Kane, the Puritan adventurer and fighter against evil. Many of Solomon’s adventures were set in Africa, and in ‘The Hills of the Dead” Kane runs into a whole tribe of vampires. The Solomon Kane tales are some of my favorites, very much horror stories with some action thrown in.
No one knows who wrote ‘The Mysterious Stranger’ but it was one of the tales that came before Bram Stoker wrote Dracula, and to my mine was a major influence on Stoker’s novel. The story of a group of travelers who find an old man in a castle and make the mistake of extending him and invitation. He begins to feed on one of the women in the story and as she grows weaker, he grows younger and stronger. There are many other parallels. Give it a read if you’ve never tried it. I’ve often thought of swiping the basic plot and turning it into a sword & sorcery story.
Which brings us to, ‘The Room in the Tower.’ E.F. Benson is one of my absolute favorite horror writers and this may be my favorite story of his. For years a man dreams of a room in the tower of a house that he thinks only exists in his imagination. But one weekend he is invited to a country house party and finds that the house is a real place, with a real tower room where something horrible is waiting on him. It reminds me a little of Perceval Landon’s ‘Thurnley Abbey’ which is one of my top ten horror yarns ever.
Count Magnus is one of M.R. James’ most famous stories. Here, the master of the Ghost Story turns his macabre imagination to a tale of a man who should really have been careful what he wished for.
Stephen King mentioned at one point that he wondered if the creature for ‘The Night Flyer” was the same creature who shows up in ‘Popsy’. He rather thought it was. Not quite as scary as ‘The Night Flyer’ but still a pretty nasty little tale of comeuppance.
Our second story by Manly Wade Wellman, ‘When It Was Moonlight’, is one of Wellman’s historical horror tales, where Edgar Alan Poe, no stranger to things that go bump in the night, runs into a moonlit horror.
Aleksei Tolstoy’s (Cousin to the more famous Tolstoy) The Family of the Vourdalak, is a tale of a family beset by a former relative who has returned as a vampire, and is in some ways closer to folklore than contemporary fiction. It has a very ‘real’ feel to it and is all the scarier for it.
I wrestled for a bit about including Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes story, ‘The Adventure of the Sussex Vampire’ because it doesn’t have a real vampire in it. But in the end I decided that it’s still an excellent creepy story, almost Doyle’s response to ‘Dracula.’
The final entry is another from pulpster Hugh. B. Cave, 'Strangella' a tale of a wrecked ship that houses a sinister secret. This one, like much of Cave's work, is strong stuff.
And there you have it. My thirteen favorite vampire short stories. Still plenty of time to track them down before Halloween. And when you're done looking at my list, go over to Amanda DeWees' blog and see what she has for you. Amanda is an expert on Vampire fiction and she knows her stuff. In the meantime, keep plenty of Garlic and Holy Water handy. You never know who might drop by.